(photo credit: Courtesy)
Last Wednesday, the Knesset approved the Budget Law and the Economic
Arrangements Law for 2011-2012. With regard to the latter, Knesset Speaker
Reuven Rivlin can boast a tactical victory.
After a five-month battle
with the Treasury, the Arrangements Law finally approved was much shorter than
the original. A tactical victory – not a strategic one. A strategic victory
would involve the total abolition of the law, or an undertaking by the Treasury
to limit it to the absolute minimum required.
The first Arrangements Law
was introduced by the government in 1985 to implement harsh economic measures
needed to cope with hyperinflation. In the years that followed, the law evolved
into a device for introducing amendments into existing laws required to
implement the budget, and getting them approved by the Knesset in a rush
simultaneously with the Budget Law.
However, it didn’t take long before
the Treasury started including pieces of legislation that had little or nothing
to do with the budget, involving major structural reforms and the cancellation
or deferment of private members’ legislation that had been passed despite the
government’s disapproval. The law rapidly turned into a classic omnibus law – a
law of enormous dimensions that includes provisions in spheres that have nothing
to do with each other, and which the legislature is expected to approve without
proper deliberation and consideration.
Omnibus laws are not uncommon in
the US federal government, but are prohibited in 43 of the 50 states by means of
a “single subject rule.”
However, since the US has a presidential system,
the background to the omnibus legislation is different to that of the law
There are, however, several countries with parliamentary systems
that have laws almost identical to the Arrangement Law. These include Belgium,
Italy, Austria (from time to time) and Canada (its Budget Implementation Act for
2010 was more than 900 pages long). Spain had such a law until 2004, when it was
abolished by the newly elected socialist prime minister who had promised that if
elected he would do away with it.
It should be noted that all the
countries that have laws similar to the Economic Arrangements Law introduced
them in times of financial crisis, and in all cases the finance ministries
discovered that they were a very convenient tool, even if highly problematic
from a democratic point of view.
BEYOND THE efforts of the Knesset
speaker to delete from the arrangements bill as many provisions as possible,
what can the Knesset do on a more permanent basis? It has two options. It must
either make the Arrangements Law illegal, or it must reach a package deal with
On the various occasions on which the High Court of
Justice was called upon to rule on issues connected with the Arrangements Law,
it stated that while the law is highly problematic, it is not illegal. The
conclusion is that to make the law illegal, the Knesset must either introduce
the single-subject rule into its legislation (such a provision actually existed
at the time of the British Mandate), or pass a law – preferable as part of a
Basic Law on legislation – which prohibits hasty legislative procedures, except
in times of emergency.
If the Knesset is unable or unwilling to pass the
appropriate legislation, it should at least try to reach an agreement with the
government on the permanent reduction of the Arrangement Law’s
The outline for such an agreement was prepared during the
17th Knesset by cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel and Knesset secretary (and its
current legal adviser) Eyal Yinon. Their proposal was the outcome of a round
table held on the subject of improving Knesset-government relations.
they proposed was that in return for the Knesset dealing more efficiently with
government bills, and reducing the number of private members’ bills brought to
the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, the government would limit the
provisions in the arrangements bill to the absolute minimum required to
implement the budget. It was also proposed that the mechanism for consultation
between MKs and the government with regard to private members’ bills be
Unfortunately, the dialogue between the government and the
Knesset on the improvement of their mutual relations was not renewed during the
18th Knesset. The tension between Rivlin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
makes the resumption of the dialogue highly unlikely in the foreseeable
The writer is a former Knesset employee.